Do your groundwork: An international student perspective

 Gayathiri Murugesan

I sat down with my classmate Gayathiri Murugesan to get her take on life as an MBA student at Portland State. “Gaya,” as some of us call her, moved to Portland in 2015 from Chennai in southern India. Forty percent of PSU’s MBA students are international, and naturally their experience can vary greatly from their American counterparts. Gayathiri’s point of view will give you an idea:

Why Portland and why Portland State? How did you end up here?

Portland was not my intention. People in our cohort say they moved here because they love Portland. I was with my husband, who’s working here, so I didn’t have any choice. But when I came into the cohort and people started talking about Portland, it gave me a different perspective about why I should be here.

I decided on the Portland MBA because a friend of mine is in the program and he is a great motivator. He told me there are a lot of great people here.

Coming to this university I felt like there was a lot of potential. People respect the earth and what sustainability is all about. I was totally unaware of that. That’s a different perspective I got only after starting at PSU.

What was surprising, interesting or exciting about Portland once you got here?

The first thing was the culture. I like the culture very much. We live in Lake Oswego, outside of Portland. In our community, people are so welcoming, which impressed me. They respect us a lot. It’s a calm place to stay, too. Being with a kid, I feel like this is a good spot to live. There’s no rush, no feeling like everything needs to be done in a hurry. It’s a relaxed pace, so that’s nice.

What are your plans or goals for after the program?

I want to start my own company. I initially thought I should just advance my career as a developer in information technology. I didn’t have skills like project management. But I felt that I was a good developer, not a great one, because I have a background in bio-pharmaceuticals. That’s why I shifted my focus from being a good developer to being a good manager.

There’s a lot of support here for startups, so I definitely want to start my own company — not necessarily in the IT field, but something with respect to sustainability.

What has been challenging as an international student?

The course structure here in the U.S. is completely different than in India. The first term was quite tricky for me because I didn’t know what I had to do. I got my undergraduate degree in 2011, so there was a big gap in my academics. There’s a huge difference in the way classes are taught in the U.S. that was at first frustrating for me. I figured out I need to do a lot of groundwork before coming to class. In our culture, the professor just lectures and it’s more of a monologue. Here we have to talk a lot. I’m not the most open person, I’m kind of reserved. Soon I got to know our cohort better and got more comfortable speaking, knowing it was something I had to do.

I’m also not used to the idea of “office hours. ” In India, if you’re going to see your professor, it’s because you are going to complain. It’s not like a conversation. That’s why I didn’t take advantage of office hours at first, but now I know they are there for our help and professors can get to know us better outside of class.

What advice do you have for other international students?

Understand the course structure, be prepared ahead of class, do a thorough analysis, and don’t be expecting to get a lecture. The groundwork is needed.

For communication, everyone will say they should have a study group. I wish I could have one, but my lifestyle of taking care of my kid and working here don’t sync up. Often times I’m not able to get together with a study group, but it’s definitely a great option if you can make it work.

Also, get in touch with current and former students. It’s a common practice for us in India to build on those kinds of connections.

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Kyle Huck has a background in graphic design and web-based marketing. He graduated from The Portland MBA in 2018.

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